Las Vegas Valley soccer teams compete on national level

While many TV sets were tuned to the U.S. men’s national soccer team competing for the World Cup in Brazil, a local youth team, Las Vegas Sports Academy 97 Red, was making news of its own.

First, the team competed at the New Mexico Soccer Tournament Complex in Bernalillo, N.M., where it won Nevada’s first US Youth Soccer U17 Boys Far West Regional Championship.

That qualified it for the opportunity to play in the national championships, scheduled for July 20-27. The finals will consist of the top eight teams in the country and will be held at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown, Md.

“Each year, more than 10,000 teams play in our national championship series as teams test their development and skill, earning their way from state to regional events, with the ultimate goal of earning a ticket to the US Youth Soccer National Championships,” said John Sutter, president of US Youth Soccer. “Germantown was an outstanding host in 2002 and 2003, and I’m sure 2014 will be even better.”

The Region IV Championships were in Albuquerque, N.M., where LVSA 97 Red defeated that state’s Valparaiso United Futbol Club 97 5-1. The Las Vegas team’s coach is Jeff Manthey.

After Valparaiso player Josias Ortiz Cruz scored a goal, LVSA 97 Red rallied to score five unanswered goals. Three were by Miles McRae with the others by Jackson Dietrich and Tristan Blackmon. Those three were the top scorers in the tournament’s under-17 boys group, along with teammate Elijah Ruffer.

Ruffer, playing since he was 5, said that despite a slow start in the final game, he knew they would win.

“When the second half (began), we just kind of started controlling the ball more and playing the game,” he said. “Then we scored one, and five minutes later, we scored another one. After that, I knew we had it.”

The regional win punched the team’s ticket to play at the national championships. The LVSA 97 Red boys team has been raising money to cover some of the costs that go along with the honor — airfare, hotel rooms, car rental and gas and meals for 18 players and their families. Its current fundraiser that can be found at gofundme.com/ap7hlg.

The American Youth Soccer Organization National Games were held June 29 to July 7 and saw participation from Las Vegas Valley teams in the girls under-10 category.

A Las Vegas-area AYSO team, the Red Hots, is competing alongside 500 other teams with 7,000 players from across the U.S. in the national championship. This year’s tournament was the largest ever and coincided with the organization’s 50th anniversary.

“AYSO’s National Games is exciting for a lot of reasons. What I love is watching the kids play and develop and gain confidence,” said Scott Gimple, AYSO’s director of player development and national events. “That’s part of the reason so many professional soccer players got their start here. It’s a great place to learn, try new things and have fun. And that’s what the National Games is all about. … A lot of people will fall in love with soccer this summer. We’re excited to be playing our 50th anniversary National Games during such an exciting time for the sport.”

The National Games are held every two years. AYSO’s focus is on sportsmanship, so teams that go to nationals are not chosen by their season win-loss record. Instead, thousands of teams are in a lottery, with as many as 200 being selected. The last time Las Vegas was selected was about eight years ago. The team learned it was selected in February.

The Red Hots team, with seven girls ages 8 and 9, are competing at nationals in two ways. The first is SoccerFest, where a scrimmage event sees new teams formed from a mix of players from across the country. Then there is the usual format, where teams compete in a bracket system as they close in on the semifinals and finals.

“It’s not so much about competition as it is about meeting other kids from across the country and having fun,” said Sarah Lawrence, AYSO regional commissioner. “We work more on player development, teaching girls the art of the game and having fun. … The biggest reward is for sportsmanship.”

The Red Hot team had not played at press time. To see the results, visit 50.ayso.org.

Contact Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan at jhogan@viewnews.com or 702-387-2949.

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